I enjoyed “Gran Torino” on a very basic level. I liked its ending.
Even though it’s meant to take place in an urban setting in Michigan, it is essentially a good old-fashioned western. Solitary hero, Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), suffering from tragedies in the past, is fed up with humanity but comes good at the end and saves the day. There are goodies and baddies, and the goodies win, just the way, Eastwood and the rest of us would like it to be. I am calling the hero Eastwood because it’s Classic Eastwood we are watching.
Films are often full of promise at the beginning and somehow along the way they seem to stray from the denouement and fizzle out. It’s usually because the director doesn’t know how to direct a good ending and we are left dissatisfied. Or he simply doesn’t know when to shout “Enough”. So we walk out of the theatre wondering if we had missed something along the way.
But that’s not how it is with “Gran Torino.” The ending is satisfying and yet leaves you crying. You wish all bad people would get their come-uppins Eastwood style. It’s the “don’t mess with me or you’ll be very sorry” approach that warms the cockles of my heart.
And yet, the film has much pathos in it and I noticed that the film audience remained silent in their seats after the end of “Gran Torino.” That’s always a good test of whether they have been affected by it. And no, they weren’t asleep either.
From a logical point of view many of the scenes in the film are too black or white and characters are not rounded, but that’s the way of the western. Black hat fights with white hat and white hat wins. That’s how it used to be in the old days before political correctness. And there is something comfortably reassuring in Eastwood’s style of acting. He’s older but just as determined as he was when he said “Make my day” so long ago. It is important for him to be fair and fight fair even when he is violent. It’s not violence he wants but justice. He fights for the underdog and in this instance it is the oppressed Asian immigrants who live next door to him.
We expect the hero to win and he doesn’t let us down. He does it at a cost, though, but his life was over anyway after his wife died. The film opens with the funeral of his wife and here we are shown the dynamics in the family. His two sons have no interest in him and all they want is to inherit his home. Even his granddaughter is a bit of a greedy slag as are his two daughters-in-law. I wish that at least one member of his family would have had some redeeming features, just for the sake of balance, but there isn’t one.
No wonder he’s fed up with the lot of them. Well, you can’t choose family, can you?
Embittered and haunted he may be, but bravery redeems him after his kindly Asian neighbours win him over. It’s all a bit schmaltzy at this point and I actually feel that Eastwood overacts during the first half of the film. He is meant to be surly, but he walks around growling too much all the time as if he is uncomfortable being so racist towards his Asian neigbours.
Some critics wrote that only Eastwood could play the role of the disgruntled and prejudiced Korean veteran, but I think that Rod Steiger could have done it as well and perhaps Harvey Keitel. Nevertheless, Eastwood is terrific in the second half.
The second half of the film is definitely much better. As I said in my intro, the ending is worth it. There is nothing more exquisite than retribution perfectly executed. Classic Eastwood, directing, producing and acting is a dish to be savoured in today’s world of the “what’s in it for me” generation.